The Government published its response to the Consultation Paper ‘Transforming Bailiff Action’ last week, announcing substantial reforms to the enforcements industry in three principal areas – clarifying the law; setting a transparent costs regime in relation to enforcement by bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers; and their regulation and training.

The original consultation, open from 17th February – 14th May 2012, sought to address ‘unacceptable behaviour’ by what it called a minority of bailiffs, including misrepresentation of their legal authority, charging of excessive fees, and threatening behaviour. The consultation also set out to provide transparency and uniformity to this essential though often criticised part of both the economy and the justice system.

The proposed changes following the consultation include prohibition on the use of force against the person; restriction on the use of reasonable force to enter property; and a restriction on the hours when debtors’ premises can be visited, which will be between 6am and 9pm.

Reforms will also prevent the use of bailiffs in relation to arrears of rent in residential premises without order of the court.

Perhaps the most important reforms, though, will deal with the fees chargeable for recovery by Bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO’s), and certification and regulation of those personnel. Enforcement activities will be grouped into stages, with fixed amounts recoverable for each stage. The overall costs repayable by the debtor will reflect the stage at which the debt is repaid, in accordance with the Government’s stated aim of providing ‘clarity and transparency’, and would see an end the practice of bailiffs and HCEOs setting their own fees.

The reforms should hopefully, in time, be positive news for those on the receiving end of a visit from the bailiffs. Anecdotally, clients have told us of threatening and unreasonable behaviour being used against them; which can be extremely distressing, especially when there are children in the house. the proposed changes would hopefully bring a more uniform approach to the industry; as a mandatory regime of training and certification is one of the further proposals set out.

The proposed changes are set to take effect sooner rather than later, with a full set of regulations for their implementation intended by summer 2013.

If you require advice in relation to bailiffs, or indeed if your debts have reached a level at which they are no longer manageable, we offer a free initial conversation about the options available. Our personal insolvency advisors help people who are struggling with debts to regain control of their finances on a daily basis, either by way of Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs), debt management plans or bankruptcy.

For more information or to arrange a free of charge initial consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

By Mark Skinner, Bankruptcy Solicitor